“Com – passion,
latin, com – together, passion – suffering
together we suffer, we suffer together endeavour to weather
the breadth and the depth of the storm
For long are the nights for the lost, forlorn,
the broken, the tired, the quietly enraged
lashed by the warring that keeps us engaged
with anger and misplaced hate, bated by false truths,
Baked to break truce with all that is love, all that is compassion
Unity could drown in oil slick politic rhetoric
quick to commit Unity to the ghetto of gimmick
cuff link it to anarchy for kicks to profit from the sale of
battleship, bombshells, bullets more heavy artillery
An ocean of hands can move a mountain
and rock the cradle of the future for a child unborn, spiritually sworn
we spray prayer on resplendent edifices sprung from the earth
birthed by the song of a billion tongues speaking, singing as one.” – Written by Zena Edwards copyright
I can remember the day that Jonzi D got in touch with me and asked if I was interested in a project that involved a graffiti artist in the warehouse space of the Birmingham Rep. It was going to be a gritty, guerilla style, performance installation piece hailing the craft of graffiti with a Muslim perspective. My diary said I was available and I was up for it. I had to see how this idea of live graffiti art, light display with spoken word was going to work. Plus I wanted know how a Muslim graffiti artist reconciled his faith and his unorthodox craft. Mohamed Ali blew my mind with the sheer scale of this undertaking, how was he going to turn a cold, grubby theatre production workshop space into a work of art.
To be working with the power houses of poetry Dreadlock Alien(B’ham) and Amir Suliman (US), along with the strong, distinct direction of Hip Hop pioneer Jonzi D (London), was an opportunity for myself, as a female poet toplace the resonance of feminine energy into the realm of war, religion and terrorism – political debates of too usually dominated by men. What also struck me was the plain overt positivity of this event was a going to be.
There will soon be a screening of the film showing the writing/rehearsal process and the performance itself but Mohammed sent me the link to the website taster. I’m looking forward to revisiting the many moments that were monumental for many reasons, but notably for what is possible for poetry in unique and fresh contemporary cross art form collaborations.
The feedback on the impact of the final performance on the audience was moving. The show evidently tackled crucial issues about society and the perceptions about Muslim faith. As we thought, my presence was particularly appreciated. Women AND men commented on my contribution, not just because of what I did as an artist but purely because I was a woman doing what I do as an artist..
A young girl in a full hijab showing only her expressive, bespectacled eyes, came over to me with her mother, who kissed me and hugged me and spoke with a gentle defiance. Her daughter translated. “My mother is so happy for you, so proud that you sang tonight.” It meant a lot.
The event itself was empowering because we as artists were stripped down to the bare essential of our beliefs around Love, Peace, Unity. To do that, we had to explore war, hate and prejudice. Even to the degree of fully engaging in the battles that go on within ourselves. (There was no room for ego and fortunately there was none of that amongst us.) We had four days to make this work. We knew it was going to be massive. It couldn’t flop. It had to be brilliant. More than brilliant.
From the film trailer, I sense that inner story is told too. We had agreed to be a part of Mohamed Ali’s gargantuan, heartfelt vision with a message – chosen because of what and how we do what we do. He had dug deep into his emotions, his memory, using the stamina of his mental and spiritual willpower to make this project happen – not seeing his family, unable to grieve properly for his father’s recent passing. The physical toll on his body, only he knows – painting 13 – 16 hours in a day to finish in time. His passion and dedication is to be admired and respected. So our agreement meant complete surrender for us too. Surrender to our roles as modern day storytellers and as artists, and most significantly, to the real meanings of these archaic themes , Love, Peace and Unity, and what they really mean in this day and age.